Yesterday I discussed three starting pitcher sleepers from the American League. Today I'll be going over 3 pitchers in the National League who I consider to be among my top sleeper candidates for 2014. These are guys you could get outside the first 10 rounds in standard league play, but who have upside well above their ADP. Let's get started then shall we?
2013 Stats: 117.1 IP, 3.22 ERA, 100 Strikeouts, 1.17 WHIP
ESPN Current ADP: 101 (11th round)
2014 Projection: 190 IP, 2.90 ERA, 190-195 Strikeouts, 1.10 WHIP
The beauty of Gerrit Cole is that even though he's only a 23 year old pitcher, he looks as close to a finished product as anything I've seen in a long time in baseball from similar 23 year olds. While some rookies are able to dazzle as two pitch pitchers, relying on overwhelming stuff to beat down hitters (see my comments below on Michael Wacha for an example of this), Cole has a very deep arsenal to pair with his plus, plus stuff. In addition to a fastball that comes in at 95.5 mph on average and can touch 100mph when he needs it to, Cole features a slider, cutter, sinker, changeup, and curveball that are all well above average.
A statistic that I commonly look at when evaluating my pitchers are their "pitch values (per 100 pitches).” In a nutshell what this statistic does is tell you how many runs above average a certain pitch saved over the course of a season, by examining the whiff rates and out rates generated by the pitch. The statistic is standardized per 100 pitches to make it easier to compare between different pitchers. Here's what Gerrit Cole's pitch values last season were:
While his fastball lacks the gaudy numbers of the rest of his offerings, you should remember that he primarily uses it to set up the rest of his pitches as well as to generate groundballs with the sinker (49.1% groundball rate last season).
It's something of an anomaly that when Cole first arrived at the majors last year, his individual pitch statistics didn't match up with his overall numbers. While the peripheral numbers were great, he only produced a 3.89 ERA in the first half of the season with a 5.40 K/9. In contrast he sported a 2.85 ERA in the second half with a much stronger 8.92 K/9. Examining the month-to-month, you see a very consistent upward trend as the season progressed both in strikeout rate and ERA. By the time September and October hit his K/9 was up to 10.97, enough to make some fantasy owners drool. Much of this success has been credited to the increased use of his curveball (check out Rotograph's “Gerrit Cole Curves His Way To Stardom” by Mike Petriello for a great breakdown of this). I'm confident he'll be able to carry this success over into next season. Cole's a true ace in the making if he does.
2013 Stats: 64.2 IP, 2.78 ERA, 65 Strikeouts, 1.10 WHIP
ESPN Current ADP: 129.9 (13th round)
2014 Prediction: 190-200 IP, 3.20 ERA, 195-205 Strikeouts, 1.15-1.18 WHIP
Looking at Wacha's per pitch numbers you notice something immediately: he lacks a true second offspeed pitch to complement his amazing changeup and his plus fastball (averaging 93mph and topping out around 97mph). Like with Cole let's take a look at his numbers:
When you take into account the fact that his changeup gets 66.7% groundballs, you could argue it's one of the best of its kind. It's a true out-pitch that sometimes reminds me of what Tim Lincecum's looked like when he was at his best. The issue with Wacha is that his curveball is essentially a throwaway pitch, only there to give hitters a different look and to keep them from sitting on his fastball. This caps his ceiling somewhat, because while he does have the stuff to dominate offenses, as he did at the end of last year and in the postseason, he has very little room to maneuver. If his change isn't at its best, or if his command is off, Wacha has nothing to fall back on. That's how the Red Sox were able to beat him on their way to a World Series.
He's been working during the offseason and Spring to develop that curve however, and considering how good his other two offerings are, all it would take is for it to develop into a league average pitch and he'd have a dominating repertoire. His talent, his youth, the advantage he has of working with the best defensive catcher in the game in Yadier Molina, and being in a Cardinals system that seems to manufacture ace starters, all make me confident that Wacha will be able to take that step forward this year. The Cardinals pitching coach Derek Lilliquist has also revealed that the young Wacha will not be on an innings limit in 2014 (“...[we] think he could be a 200-inning guy this year. At the end of the day we need some guys who can give us 200 innings." ). That alone raises his celing tremendously when compared to the other young pitchers in the league, especially in counting stats like strikeouts and wins. I look forward to having him on many of my teams this coming season.
2013 Stat-line: 175.0 IP, 3.09 ERA, 128 Strikeouts, 1.13 WHIP
ESPN Current ADP: 164.8 (17th round)
2014 Prediction: 195-200 IP, 3.05-3.15 ERA, 150-160 Strikeouts, 1.15-1.20 WHIP
I shouldn't need to tell you the enormous advantage Andrew Cashner has in pitching half his games at PETCO park, but I don't think Cashner is just a product of his environment. Taking a look at his per pitch numbers you see a lot of potential:
Fastball: 1.11, Slider: 0.79, Changeup: -0.48, Curveball: -2.34
The fastball right now is his best offering, getting a great strikeout rate and good groundballs (49.5%). The velocity on it is great as it comes in at an average of 94.6mph and tops out at just over 100mph. His slider complements it well and is a force against right handed batters. With those two pitches as his only plus offerings last season, he was able to be a very good pitcher for fantasy owners, supplying a great ERA and WHIP and enough strikeouts to help out.
What get's me excited about Cashner is that his changeup, which was so poor in 2013, has shown flashes of being an above average offering before. In his 46.1 innings with the Padres in 2012 for example, it had a pitch value of 2.62 and while the sample is too small to conclude it could be that good of a pitch, it is sufficient to say that it shows it has the potential to at least be an average contributor. It showed that same potential in the minors, and if Cashner is able to bring it back to at least league average level, he would be able to pair it with his slider, giving him a weapon for lefties as well as righties. That's good for strikeouts, good for ERA, and good for you as a fantasy owner.